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John Collins is a High-Stakes Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach specializing in the development of employees, leaders, and teams in high-stakes, high-pressure industries. He is also an internationally... Read More »

An expert witness is a person authorized by a judge to share professional opinions in a court of law about subjects in which the expert was found to be sufficiently knowledgeable and competent.  

During criminal or civil litigation, the permission granted to expert witnesses to give their opinions about topics of interest (DNA, fingerprints, accounting, ballistics, engineering, toxicology, and so forth) gives them considerable power and influence in the courtroom as compared to other kinds of witnesses.

Our nation once again celebrates its unique capacity to transfer leadership with grace and dignity.  The joyousness of the occasion, however, quickly fades into solemnity as citizens and institutions alike assume their vigil, standing guard to keep watchful eyes on those in positions of power. 

Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates, made what might be considered a historic announcement at the recent annual gathering of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Las Vegas, Nevada.  

Summarizing the results of a multi-disciplinary review of forensic hair tests conducted by the FBI laboratory over many years, Yates claimed that 90% of those reviews showed evidence that FBI scientists erred during their court testimony - that perhaps FBI representatives overstated the significance of their findings or suggested that the forensic results were more incriminating than they actually were.  
Keeping the Gate is a "science and society" blog, which is to mean that it explores the relationship between science and society.  Journalists and producers play critical roles in regulating that relationship.  But the definition of journalism is changing as more and more people with compelling interests gain access to more and more channels through which to spin personal sentiments into the appearance of irrefutable fact.  
Keeping the Gate is the first to announce that an anonymous complaint addressed to the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) has been made against famed O.J. Simpson defense attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who are the cofounders of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University in Manhattan. 
So what methods and professional standards are applied to the review of scientific evidence long after the original work was completed?

Very few.

This morning's Washington Post article titled FBI overstated forensic hair matches in nearly all trials before 2000 doesn't answer the question. Instead, it simply cites the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as the sources of data indicating that FBI experts "overstated" the significance of hair comparisons on a wide scale.